They say that, with age, comes wisdom. Where that may be more true for some than for others (I’m referring to myself here), in the end we’re all bound to pick up a few success secrets over time that would have served us well to begin with.
When I started out in business, I thought careers were like hockey stick curves – you spent a long time doing grunt work in the beginning, followed by a more or less meteoric rise to the top.
My own career has more in common with a colourful patchwork than a carefully designed strategy. And maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
With that in mind, here are a few “success secrets” I’d love to be able to share with my 25-year old self.
#1. “Think before you act. Sleep on it. (Only) Then act.”
I’m trigger happy when it comes to ideas. A few years ago, I reached out to handful of people and asked them what they considered to be my key strengths and development areas.
The answer that came back most often ? Think things through to the end before taking action.
I’m a big believer in action, but had to find out the hard way that not all action is created equal.
Whilst doing my MBA, I developed the idea of a mobile commerce startup. We won an award for best business plan, entered a prestigious Swiss startup competition, got some seed funding … and then I discovered I really didn’t want to be a startup CEO.
A few years later, I launched the world’s first online platform where business and executives coaches could showcase their talent to potential clients. Everyone loved the idea, and I soon had well over 300 coaches on the platform … only to find out none would consider paying even $20/month for it.
Looking back, I could have saved myself months of time, hard graft and frustration by looking forward in time and asking a few hard questions. Now, I remind myself to “think before you act. Not after”.
#2. “Success is where preparation meets opportunity.”
For a long time, I thought hard work was what you needed to be successful. But then, I had to acknowledge that luck also entered into the equation. Success is what comes as a result of being prepared, and then seizing opportunities as they come along.
Hard work + Luck = Hard Luck.
#3. “Good things will come to those who wait.”
Early on in my career, I was blessed to be on somewhat of a fast track. Due to what was no doubt a combination of hard work with being at the right place at the right time, I found myself advancing through the ranks faster than most.
Yet, I still was impatient. My star wasn’t rising fast enough, so I made a disastrous move. I left an organisation where I was happy, had great colleagues, a bright future and interesting work, for an organisation that was pretty much – well, exactly the opposite.
It lasted six months before things blew up.
After that, I learned a valuable lesson. The fastest road doesn’t always turn out to be fastest.
#4. “A wrong turn can sometimes be the right thing.”
After the experience of joining a team of what was later described to me as “preppy cowboys” and leaving shortly after, I found myself afloat for a while. No new job landed yet, kind of “in between” things. (Not the last time that would happen, either.)
Soon after, I was offered a position with another prestigious firm, where I spent many years happy, well-motivated and engaged in an exciting work environment. Compared to my previous employers, it wasn’t quite as fast-paced and exciting, but offered many other benefits in exchange.
As I was discussing my previous “wrong turn” with someone, they said “maybe you had to go through that experience in order to be able to have this one”.
The instant she said it, I knew she was right. It was only after disaster had struck that I was able to fully appreciate the nice, quiet and comfortable work environment that I’d landed myself into.
#5. “Your career should read like a story. A good one.”
I had the good fortune to be mentored by a few individuals with a wealth of experience – but one in particular stood out to me. A former head hunter with one of the big names, he’d taken me under his wing, and provided me with some much-needed straight talk whenever I found myself faced with a major career decision.
At one point, over lunch, as we were discussing another of my hare brained schemes, he told me: “Ago, your CV should read like a story. A good one. It should be a logical succession of building blocks that show you progressing towards a final destination.“
From then on, I took that advice to heart. In spite of taking the occasional wrong turn, my career and CV now pretty much read like a series of building blocks that converge into a logical narrative of progression. (Even though it doesn’t always feel that way when I’m in the eye of the storm.)
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